Friday, 13 March 2020

Thomas Henry Quarmby (1894 - 1917) – British soldier poet from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

It is always exciting to discover a hitherto unknown WW1 soldier poet and our thanks go to Historian Andrew Mackay for discovering Thomas, sending me his findings and giving me permission to share them..

Thomas was born in 1894 in Burnley, Lancashire.  His parents were William Arthur Quarmby, an architect/surveyor, and his wife, Florence Mary Quarmby, nee Buck, and he had a brother, George Gilbert, born in 1899.  By all accounts, Thomas was a bright lad for he was awarded a scholarship to study at a grammar school and his love for poetry was evident at an early age.

When he was 16, Thomas went to study at Victoria University, Manchester (now part of Manchester University), before working at the textile mill Collinge Brothers, Burnley Wood Mill Company, for about two and half years learning the manufacturing business.

When war broke out, Thomas enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery as a Gunner (Private), joining ‘C’ Battery of the 161st Brigade.  He was posted to France and though he was promoted to the rank of Bombardier (Corporal), he preferred being a Gunner and reverted to that rank. Thomas was wounded and died of his wounds on 3rd December 1917.  He was buried in Grevillers British Cemetery, France – Grave Reference: IXA.14.
Grave of Thomas Quarmby in France
Photo by Andrew Mackay

Andrew’s research found this additional information: A remarkable incident occurred a few months after his death - in a postscript to his last letter of the 30th November 1917, Thomas stated that he had discovered two books were missing from his kit - “Carlyle’s Essays” and “Byron’s Poems”, in both of which his home address had been written. On 14th March 1918, Thomas’s parents received a parcel from a Major commanding a Field Company of Engineers, containing the aforementioned books, which the officer explained “had been picked up on the battlefield a few days ago and is returned to you on account of sentimental value attached to the present. We have no knowledge of the whereabouts of the owner.”

Thomas had written some verses in the books in pencil:

Make Thou the nation pure,
More worthy of thy care;
Oh England!  If thou would’st endure’
Seek thou thy path in prayer.
Thy wisdom light our way
So in years to be;
More happy we each passing day,
As we draw near to Thee.

Gunner Quarmby’s patriotism was revealed in the following excerpt from one of his letters written prior to his leaving for France: “It looks as if we are going to be involved in the big smash up on the Western Front that is impending, although I have a fancy that we shall be used rather as reinforcements than actually take a premier early important part in the fighting."

Thomas had a gift for writing poetry and almost all of his letters contained some poetic composition.  The following is one of his last compositions:

“Sonnet – Evening”

Oh when the dusk is falling, and the stars
Flash their reveille to the realm of the night;
Me thinks that Nature, all her souls unbars;
And fills each common thing with mystic light
Then come there whispering from the leafy trees,
A subtle rustle from the swaying reeds;
Ten thousand murmurs from the evening breeze,
Nectar on which the heart poetic feeds.

Then do I sit and muse, as twilight drops
Her  last slow ray upon the dim lit plain;
Until pale stars come peeping o’er hilltop,
And set the scene for nature’s highest strain,
Eternity!  I hear they whispers throng,
Oh! Could I weave them all, into my song.

Andrew researched in Burnley Library.  He has a website which can be viewed here:

and he has several Facebook Groups:

War Memorials of the British Isles

Great War Ypres Battlefields Cemeteries & Memorials – Pictures

Great War Somme Cemeteries Battlefields & Memorials Pictures

Saturday, 7 March 2020

John Goudy (1893 - 1951) - British soldier poet

With thanks to Historian Debbie Cameron for this post

A letter written by Private John Goudy from France in November 1916 to his former teacher, Joseph Goodison, headmaster of Higher Brinksway School, Stockport, enclosed a poem;  he wondered if it was worthy of publication.  John also mentioned that the weather conditions were severe.

Goodison clearly liked the poem, as he read an extract from it during a speech he gave at the National Union of Teachers’ meeting in 1917. In his notes for the speech he wrote “A Stockport lad who fought with so many other Stockport lads at Thiepval… sent a poem which he composed in his earliest free hour after Thiepval battle, to his former teacher.”

John Goudy was born in 1893, the son of John Smith Goudy and Margaret Leatham. His father was an Irish-born wheelwright, and the family moved from Ireland to Kettleshulme somewhere between 1886 and 1891. They then moved to Whaley Bridge, before moving to Stockport, and at the time of the 1901 census were living on Vulcan Street.

By the time he was eighteen, John was a boarder with a family in Levenshulme, Manchester, and working as a general clerk in the basket industry. On the 13th March 1915 he enlisted in the army, he served in France in 1917 in the Army Service Corps, and he was discharged on the 5th August 1918, at the age of 25, as no longer physically fit for war service. He was awarded the Victory and British medals.

Debbie says: “I found this handwritten poem from an archive project I was involved in several years ago, based on Manchester's record office archives. It's lovely as it is beautiful handwriting too.”

The poem, entitled “Thiepval 1916”, reads:

The hell was born,- on a July dawn –
“To win or die our youth was laid”,
On that red morn, o’er dew just born,
Neath early sky our charge was made.

Pleased, – the Carnage Spirit
O’er shells that fell,
On Thiepval’s dead,
And weeping o’er the sea,
And the mournful Spirit
Of an absent bell, –
“Tolled to the tread
Of sleeping o’er the lee.

The pine trees fell, in the Pine Trees’ Dell, –
Loud did thunder Britain’s mighty guns,
Thro’ shot and shell, – with Hero yell,
Thro’ the thunder Britain’s might sons.
The carriage spirit smiled
With it’s grinning head.
On fierce hell,
Raging on and neath the sod,
And lips of morn that smiled –
At Eve were dead, –
“And heroes fell
On earth – To rise to GOD.”

John Goudy – France, 1916.

Thiepval, a village on the Somme in France, was occupied by the Germans as a fortress. It was attacked by the British on the 1st July 1916. The village was completely flattened by the bombardment, but the Germans occupied the deep cellars of houses, so their machine guns were protected and they put up a strong resistance.  There were heavy losses, and it was September before Thiepval was taken. One of the largest memorials to the missing is located at Thiepval.